The cliche is that when your only tool is a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail. This cliche is just as true in politics as it would be in construction. Enter the four Democrats who make up the 46th District’s legislative delegation in Baltimore City: Senator Bill Ferguson and Delegates Luke Clippinger, Brooke Lierman, and the un-elected Delegate Robbyn Lewis who was appointed to her position last year when Pete Hammen resigned to join Mayor Pugh’s team.
A Solution That’s Not A Solution
Confronted with ballooning crime rate in Southeast Baltimore, and the City writ-large (and the fact that each faces the voters next year), “Team 46” has rushed out a proposal for a comprehensive response to Baltimore’s crime problems (here). The proposal was presented as a “solution” by a puff piece from WBAL TV.
The only real “solutions” presented, as we’ll discuss, are “should-ing” (a political term that makes one seem like he or she is acting when it’s just virtue signalling) and more government. Neither of these are the actual, tangible solutions anyone is looking for. Worse, though perhaps it’s cynical, this proposal exploits an ongoing tragedy to make is seem like these officials are acting, when they are doing nothing.
Let’s first give credit where it’s due. Our legislators in Southeast Baltimore definitely have a good graphic designer. The pamphlet is slick, shiny, and should trouble absolutely anyone who cares about the future of accountable government in the City.
It starts out pretty well, actually. Calling on the Mayor to (finally) appoint a leader to the Office of Criminal Justice and for that office to reinstate the worthwhile Gunstat program. The group further proposes that State Police resources be used to ease the burden on City Police where there are overlapping jurisdictions. As we see throughout the document, the “solutions” that may actually cut down on some of the violence in the City aren’t related to actions State legislators can take, but rather, they are decisions that need to be taken by executive officials (be they in the Mayor’s Office or the Governor’s Executive Departments).
Baltimore’s “Should-ing” Epidemic
We call this “should-ing.” (A few other Baltimore Democrats have been doing similar things, we discussed this here). Basically, politicians who speculate as to
what other people need to do, or about a perfect scenario in the future are “should-ing.” It’s a subset of what’s come to be known, broadly, as “virtue signalling.” The term virtue signalling has come into vogue recently to describe things like “Bring Back Our Girls” the (in)famous tweet of Michelle Obama holding a sign with a hashtag on it to promote the return of young girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, the Islamist group in Africa that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State.
Virtue Signalling is meant to show other people how virtuous you are… without actually doing anything. Another example is the explosion of temporary Facebook profile pictures after disasters (I’m Helping).
So, in politics, saying that other people should do something is a very nice way to sound enlightened and progressive without actually having to get your hands dirty.
More Failure for Baltimore in Four Acts
“Team 46” presents a Four Part solution to the crime problem in Baltimore. Part I is the “should-ing” component that recommends courses of action wholly unrelated to what our state legislators are elected to do. Of the eleven ideas put forward, nine are wholly within the purview of City officials, one is a hybrid with federal partners in prosecution, and one is a task for the Governor.
Part II of the framework, titled “Proposed 2018 Legislation” at least sounds like it would be something positive from “Team 46.” Unfortunately, as we see, it’s merely a big government setup for additional bureaucracy rather than solutions.
The first “idea” is a vague nation of creating a “fund” that can be used to curb “all types of violence” to be administered by the State Department of Health. The proposal, couched in flowery rhetoric about “strategic targeting” is, at best, cutting a huge check from the taxpayers to one of the largest bureaucratic institutions in the state (notably one whose chief, Dennis Schrader, Senator Ferguson has opposed paying for his service). At worst, this is, again, virtue signalling, cutting a check from the government and thinking that they’ve gone ahead and solved the problem with taxpayer money.
The second “idea” proposed in the second part of the proposal, again, sounds lovely “eliminating illegal guns.” Fantastic. Of course, there’s nothing in the proposal about curbing Maryland’s draconian gun laws and promoting safe and responsible gun ownership for self-defense, but we wouldn’t have thought that would come from Democrats, anyway. Instead, “Team 46” inches towards supporting mandatory minimums for illegal gun offenses (while still using wiggle language about exploring possibilities). While the Team does mention reining-in judicial use of suspended sentences for gun possession, they, bafflingly, have nothing to say about removing discretion on crimes of violence regardless of the weapon (or lack thereof) that’s used.
Things Go Off the Tracks
Up to this point in the discussion, there are some things in the “Team 46” proposal that are decent. Sure, most of it is posturing and politics and shifting the burden onto other people, but at least it reflects some amount of caring. Part III is really where the wheels come off the car and we see the insidious goal of our legislators: more government and a left-wing radical mindset.
During the Obama Administration, Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was quoted as saying “never let a good crisis go to waste.” Potentially this is how “Team 46” feels about the violence ripping apart the streets of Baltimore. Where other people see death and lawlessness, our legislators see the chance to enact devastating progressive politics.
The first of these ideas, remember, this is in a pamphlet about reducing violence in Baltimore, is about raising the minimum wage. Frankly, the mental gymnastics that someone would have to do to find the minimum wage, a brutal killer of small business and entry-level jobs, helpful in combating violence is astounding. In Seattle, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, the battlecry of the Left, has resulted in less income for the working poor as companies hire fewer workers and eliminate jobs through automation. If anything, Team 46 would be throwing more people into the meat grinder of the streets of Baltimore rather than helping them with some extra spending cash.
Another one of these head-spinning proposals, again, couched in combating violence, is an earned sick leave bill on which the Democrats of the General Assembly are rallying to overturn a gubernatorial veto. The veneer of caring here is nonexistent and reveals the naked partisan call-to-arms below. This is the moment when anyone reading the proposal would realize this has nothing to do with violence and everything to do with trying to undermine Governor Hogan and advance a left-wing agenda.
The Partisan Attacks
In the end, the pamphlet simply resorts to blatant distortions of reality to advance a failed narrative. Team 46 writes that “the Governor had initially zeroed out funding” for Baltimore City residents. Of course this is just an attempt to undermine Governor Larry Hogan (mind you, the same Governor who saved Baltimore from the violence and rioting during the Freddie Gray riots in 2014 when the Mayor and other City officials were too paralyzed to act).
Of course, it wouldn’t be a left-wing Baltimore Democrat piece if it didn’t somehow link “transit” to crime. In their conclusion, in which they hope that the situation in Baltimore City can be managed by the Mayor and Governor, “Team 46” posits that “structural problems” (a progressive code-word) like “lack of affordable housing” and “reliable transit” are contributors to crime in Baltimore City. Of course, what they really mean is more government intervention in people’s lives and the way in which people behave in the City.
Devoid of Solutions
So, we’ve taken a look at the progressive manifesto of the people who are running for re-election in 2018 in one of Baltimore City’s most affluent areas. They, like many of the constituents who vote for them, are keen to “virtue signal” their way back into office. “They care because they talk about the youth! etc.”
One vein remains constant throughout this piece: a strong distrust for individuals to act without the overbearing hand of government. These legislators think that everything must be addressed and tweaked and changed by an active government. Whether it’s in what the City should do, what the Governor should do, what the Executive Departments should do, or what the legislature should pass, everything that’s proposed makes it seem like the only way to solve problems is with programs and government intervention.
Let’s posit a question here: Democrats have been in charge and have proposed more and more government intervention and money and spending over the last fifty years in Baltimore– when has this solution actually worked?
Sure, there are victories here and there, and I’m sure that every program has lined up one or two people who can testify about the efficacy of this grant or that allotment. However, when it comes right down to it, why is government always proposed as the solution? A corollary to this is, of course, if things aren’t getting better, why do you keep electing Democrats?
The answer to both of these questions is in the shiny, sleek, but ultimately devoid of solutions pamphlet we’ve been discussing here. It looks new and exciting. It looks like there are solutions. It looks like there’s hope. And, how much would you want to bet that, in four years, the same group of people will be pushing the same type of shiny and sleek pamphlet detailing ways to solve the exact same problems?
An Actual Path Forward?
Here are the things that we don’t see in the “Team 46” pamphlet that somehow skipped our legislators’ minds:
- Free market solutions that encourage entrepreneurship and large scale business investment in Baltimore. This, practically, could come through tax breaks, incentives, and our legislators attending national meetings with the Mayor and Governor to try to bring major retailers into Baltimore City.
- Explicit support for the Police Department in Baltimore City. Not only do the police need upgrades and manpower support, but they also need political capital and backing to do their jobs. Our legislators could actively work with their counterparts across the State to “lend/lease” both men and equipment from other jurisdictions for surges in Baltimore’s police presence.
- Lowering taxes on individuals in the State to allow them to keep more of their hard-earned money.
- A focus on bolstering families and working to create public-private partnerships with faith-based groups, especially in Baltimore City that already have on-the-ground connections in some of Baltimore’s most troubled neighborhoods.
- A willingness to set partisanship aside and, in proposals meant to make Baltimore stronger, decide to work hand-in-hand with the Governor to strengthen Baltimore’s economy though showing a unified front. This would encourage tourism and additional visitors to the City and create an atmosphere where Baltimore’s reputation isn’t defined by crime and The Wire.
- Start taking a more active role in overseeing judicial disabilities and whether certain judges are contributing to recidivism rates in the State.
There are just six, actual, tangible, solutions that legislators could propose if they were serious about making changes in Baltimore City. It’s a shame that we simply see more of the same rather than the change that our citizens so desperately deserve.
Authority Friends of Matthew McDaniel; Matthew D. Proud, Treasurer